Here, this series diverges in two directions: exploring the Rule in its fullest expression within the vowed Order and leading adapting its wisdom and inspiration to life outside the Order. The original reflections, written during the desert experience within the Order, are reflections on the Rule for life as a vowed member of the Order, and specifically within the context of the American province of the Order of Carmelites. It should also be pointed out that these thoughts are within the ancient observance of the Order, and not the Discalced Carmelites. While I firmly believe that our observances are equal, as are the various Rites within the Church, I also know that there are those who like to label one over the other and may so disregard things they do not want to hear. This Way of Life, however, is not so easy, that we can lay aside those difficult and uncomfortable things as more appropriate to another Order. There is but one Rule to which we have professed a vow of obedience to, and our question is: What is the Rule saying to us in this Western, 21st century.
These “adaptations” to the Rule are not mitigations or reductions. They are not attempts to make the Rule easier to adhere to and more comfortable, rather, as one who has lived for a time in Carmel and drank from that quenching spring, but has been called outward to life as a diocesan priest, these are the ways that one may continue to benefit from and participate in the fruit and wisdom of the Carmelite Way of Life. In other words, the fruit of Carmel is not reserved alone for the cloister, but is practical and beneficial to the life of Christians throughout the world, and living in any condition and circumstance.
As an example: Chapter 4 of the Rule calls for the brothers to elect from among them a prior to whom they are each to vow obedience, as well as chastity and the renunciation of ownership. It’s obvious that electing a prior does not make sense for families, priests and others living a secular life, but does that mean that this chapter and all of the other references that the Rule makes to a prior become meaningless and irrelevant? Is there a place for parents, both mother and father, to take on the role, responsibilities and characteristics of a prior? And what of priests, if more than one occupy a rectory? Might this clause also have something to teach us in business and at our places of employment about the importance of recognizing the authority and responsibilities of a boss, a proper relationship between a supervisor and employee, and the attitude and dispositions we are to have toward those who are under our care? We may then also consider the importance of living a life in obedience, and one that is also guided by the principles of chastity and renunciation of ownership? In these ways the Rule does not become changed in order to lead us through life outside the Order, but its wisdom is adapted to our particular situations and circumstances, that we may all glean from its value and participate in that life and that uniquely Carmelite Way of perfection.
We may also quickly consider the chapters of designating a separate cell, of putting on the armor of God and eating a common meal. All of us, regardless of our place in life can reserve a place for solitude and prayer, may wear constant signs and reminders of our faith and regularly share a common meal with the people of our household. Some parts of the Rule are straightforward and very simple, like the exhortation to hear mass daily in Chapter 14. Others may be more obscure, like the provision for owning livestock in Chapter 13. But even here, even in the most obscure and seemingly irrelevant parts of Albert’s Rule, it remains inerrantly relevant and affective to Carmelite life in the 21st Century, both for vowed members of the orders and for those living in the secular world.
Desert Reflections may have begun during my life as a brother in the Order of Carmelites, but its wisdom and influence has carried over into life outside. I hope and pray that you may find in it also some wisdom and inspiration that will lead you along this same Way, ever more deeply and profoundly into a life with Christ, into an 8-century tradition that found God in the silence, in solitude and in simplicity; into that constant state of being in love with the One who Loved us first.